Salience Not Status: How Category Labels Influence Feature Inference

Cognitive Science 39 (7):1594-1621 (2015)
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Two main uses of categories are classification and feature inference, and category labels have been widely shown to play a dominant role in feature inference. However, the nature of this influence remains unclear, and we evaluate two contrasting hypotheses formalized as mathematical models: the label special-mechanism hypothesis and the label super-salience hypothesis. The special-mechanism hypothesis is that category labels, unlike other features, trigger inference decision making in reference to the category prototypes. This results in a tendency for prototype-compatible inferences because the labels trigger a special mechanism rather than because of any influences they have on similarity evaluation. The super-salience hypothesis assumes that the large label influence is due to their high salience and corresponding impact on similarity without any need for a special mechanism. Application of the two models to a feature inference task based on a family resemblance category structure yields strong support for the label super-salience hypothesis and in particular does not support the need for a special mechanism based on prototypes



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